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Italy's Salvini issues new migrant ban as seeks to derail new coalition

ABOARD THE ALAN KURDI (Reuters) - Italy’s outgoing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has banned another migrant-rescue ship from docking in the country, using the issue of immigration to pile pressure on his main two political rivals as they seek to form a new government.

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Salvini, who leads the League party, issued a decree banning the Alan Kurdi ship, operated by the German Sea-Eye NGO, with 13 migrants abroad, from entering Italian waters, the second time in a week that he has acted to prevent rescue ships bringing migrants ashore.

Italy’s coalition government between Salvini’s right-wing League and 5-Star Movement broke down last month, when in a sudden move Salvini declared it dead and called for elections.

Last week, Italy’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, asked Giuseppe Conte to head up a coalition of 5-Star and opposition Democratic Party

Salvini, trying to drive a wedge between the 5-Star Movement and the opposition center-left Democratic Party, said at the weekend that the new coalition would end his ban on migrant boats arriving from Africa.

Another ship, the Mare Jonio is stuck in sight of the Italian southern island of Lampedusa with 34 migrants left on board out of around 100 that were rescued on Wednesday off Libya.

Rome agreed to allow women, children and sick people on board to disembark but refused to lift its ban on the ship entering Italian waters.

The Italian charity Mediterranea Saving Humans, which operates the Mare Jonio, said on Saturday that conditions on the ship were “difficult”, with scarcity of running water and after a storm in the past hours.

Salvini said in a statement on Sunday: “If the PD wants to reopen the doors and allow the business of illegal immigration to start up again, it should tell that to Italians.”

The 5-Star Movement and the PD are holding talks on forming a government. If they don’t reach an agreement sometime this week, Mattarella is expected to dissolve parliament and set a date for new elections.

Difficulties still persist as 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio last week made a string of policy demands - including the confirmation of a decree clamping down on migrant sea rescues - setting an uncompromising tone for the negotiations.

Reporting by Darrin Zammit Lupi, writing by Giulio Piovaccari. Editing by Jane Merriman